When starting quarterback Sam Bradford was lost for the season with a knee injury for the second straight year, the St. Louis Rams still hung onto hopes of building success around a stout defense.
After a season-opening 34-6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, questions are already starting to surface.
The Rams contained All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson but had no answer for receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who ran for 102 yards — including a back-breaking 67-yard touchdown run in the third quarter — in the blowout.
"It's always concerning when you lose a game and you're not competitive in it. We were competitive for a while there but things got out of hand and the wheels fell off," St. Louis defensive end Chris Long said.
Shaun Hill made his first start in four years in place of the injured Bradford and couldn't lead the Rams to any points before coming out at halftime with a left quad strain.
Austin Davis, who spent much of the past two seasons on the Rams' practice squad, but had never played in the NFL, took over and didn't fare much better against a Minnesota defense that gave up the most points in the league during a 5-10-1 season last year.
Hill's last pass was intercepted by Josh Robinson with 1:09 to go in the first half, setting up Matt Cassel's 8-yard pass to Greg Jennings for a 13-0 lead.
Patterson broke at least four tackles on the 67-yarder that put the Vikings up 20-3 late in the third quarter. He had carries of 23 and 12 yards in the first half and added three receptions for 26 yards. Patterson had three touchdowns rushing on 12 carries as a rookie last season.
"It's like when all the breaks came, they went opposite of our way," said Rams offensive tackle Rodger Saffold, who left the game with a neck injury in the fourth quarter.
"Some of the craziest things happened in the game. Some of the most unexpected things happened in the game. "We've been dealing with that ever since the preseason. We keep trying to fight and fight, and the next thing you know — Bam! — something else happens. There's nothing else to say about this game today. We're disappointed."
"It's very frustrating," Long said. "Frustration is putting it lightly."
Mike Zimmer won in his debut as the Vikings' head coach after spending the previous 14 seasons as a defensive coordinator with Dallas, Atlanta and Cincinnati.
Minnesota got four of its five sacks in the second half against Davis, and Harrison Smith's 81-yard interception return made it 34-3 late in the fourth quarter.
Brian Quick had seven catches for 99 yards for St. Louis, which was penalized 13 times for 121 yards and managed only 72 yards rushing with a 3.3-yard average.
"It gets down to what you're depending on as the catalyst for the offense," offensive tackle Joe Barksdale said. "You can't light a powder keg with just a powder keg."
The 34-year-old Hill ended up 8 for 13 for 81 yards. He was extremely guarded about his injury after the game, although he held out hope that he'd be able to play next Sunday at Tampa. Davis had 192 yards on 16 for 23 passing.
"We didn't play very well today," coach Jeff Fisher said. "I wasn't anticipating that out of us. Just disappointed. It seemed that throughout the game, players took turns making drive-killing mistakes or allowing drives to continue."
"There were things that just should not happen," he added.
The margin of defeat matched the largest for the Rams at home in a season opener. St. Louis also lost its opener by 28 points at Seattle in 2009, when the team went on to finish 2-14.
"That's not the end all, be all of the season but it's Week 1. We wanted to show ourselves better than that," Long said. "It's our job to prove that that's not indicative of who we are."
NOTES: Long (left ankle) was sidelined after tackling Peterson in the third quarter. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes (groin) left in the third quarter. ... OL Greg Robinson, the second overall pick of the draft, was limited to a handful of special teams snaps the first half, but came in at guard after Saffold's late injury. ... Blair Walsh kicked three field goals of 50-plus yards at St. Louis as a rookie in 2012 and he drilled a 52-yarder to open the scoring. He was 26 for 30 last season, three of the misses from beyond 50 yards. ... Rams K Greg Zuerlein had been 7 for 13 career from 50-plus before hooking a 50-yarder later in the first.
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